With recent world events (the novel coronavirus and COVID-19) many people that have been steady office workers for their entire career are now being asked to work from home for the next couple of weeks. Having just made that change a whole 120 days ago, I wanted to chime in with some of the tips I learned going from working at an assigned location for 25 years to working from home full time.
Location Location Location
Just as in real estate, location is everything when making this change. Working from the kitchen table might work for one day, but beyond that, you need a better location.
- Look for an area that has a door you can close. It’s nice to be able to interact with the family and the family pet while working but you still need to work. Being able to close a door and isolate yourself from these distractions is going to be key in allowing you to actually accomplish something during your time at home.
- Set some rules. This is something to help you and your family know how to interact with you during this time. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I will share mine for you real quick.
- When the door is open, feel free to come in.
- When the door is closed, I am occupied but if you really need something, you can knock or contact me via messenger.
- When the door is closed and the light is on, then do not disturb unless the house is on fire. Many people have different versions of “the light” but mine is just a battery-operated, light-up sign my wife got at the local home decoration store. When that is on, everyone knows that I might as well not be at home.
- Worksurface. This is something I don’t see anyone talk about, but I am realizing this a key factor and I am in the process of improving myself. My original home office desk just didn’t have enough flat space, and it is cumbersome at times. It’s worked for 118 days, but beyond that, look for a bigger plot of flat space to work from.
Now that you are going to working from home, and trying to be productive for the people that have graciously agreed to keep paying you, you are going to want some additional tools to help make this experience more comfortable.
- Company VPN. Know it, use it, love it. As IT people we should be familiar with these and why we should use it, but the people you interact with might not. Help your people understand how and when to use your companies VPN and be patient with them. You can explain the details of how it works later, but protect your data today.
- Get an additional monitor. All those meetings that you used to attend in person are all going to go web-based, and having an additional monitor will allow you to function during these meetings. There are a ton of other reasons to have a second or third screen, but it will prove invaluable.
- Get a decent headset for your computer. Since you will be doing more web-based meetings, this is almost a necessity. You don’t need to drop a lot of money for this in the beginning so don’t think you need studio recording quality equipment here. Turns out that gaming headsets work really well for this, and you can get them rather cheap. I like the dual muff to help me focus on the meeting and not what I hear on the other side of the door.
- Get “The Light.” This is something I referenced earlier to inform your family that you are not to be disturbed unless a dire emergency. It can be anything really, but having that additional indicator will help keep things quiet when that is needed.
- Out of band communication. This is more of a team thing than a personal thing, but it will prove crucial as you work from home. Instead of the boss tracking you down as you are in the break room, there needs to be a way your team can communicate quickly, and informally when needed. Whatever tool your team chooses for this, make sure everyone can load it on their phones. Finally, you have to use this tool! Not paying attention to the group chat will cause issues the longer this goes on.
- Coffee producing system. This may seem trivial, and you might be able to get by for a short time with what you have, but I know this is something that I realized needs to be improved. I have had a pod coffee system for the past 10 years, and it has worked really well. Mainly because when I get to work I had access to a larger volume system. Since now that aspect has changed the pods just don’t cut it any longer and I need to change to something that delivers a greater volume of coffee more economically.
There is going to be one major grading factor here when all this is said and done and that will be were you able to get your tasks accomplished during this time or not. How you act during this may open you up to more opportunities to work from home, or close that door forever. Honestly, this section has proved to be the most difficult for me while making this transition.
- Be an adult. For years, we have claimed that we don’t need to be babysat while at work, that we are all adults and don’t need that. Well, now you have the chance to prove yourself. You only have one chance to make a good first impression so don’t screw this up.
- Out of band communications. Discuss with your boss, and your team, how you are going to communicate during this time. This type of communications, as I talked about earlier, is going to be crucial, but know what types of communications goes where. Ask your boss on the messaging system about a topic, but the official communication needs to be via email on your company account. This way it can be tracked and referenced later. Out of band communication is the hallway conversation, email is the official meeting conversation.
- Know how to track assignments remotely. If this isn’t set up already, ask your boss for clarification to make sure nothing gets missed during this time. This may prove to be one of the more difficult parts, but it is essential to understand.
Working from home can be awesome if you learn how to do it. My commute is so much better, and working in your pajamas with your feet up is a great feeling! That being said, please don’t abuse it! You will find that by putting in a little effort, you can focus more, be more productive, and do better work from a home office than in a normal office environment.
Between the group chats, and the web-based meetings (you don’t always have to use a webcam by the way) and other social media outlets, you can get almost all of the social interactions you used to while still in your pajamas.
This brings me to my last point. Pajamas are comfortable, pajamas are fun, but they can be addicting. Don’t become a slave to your pj’s. That walk you used to take to clear your head, you still need to do it. Get away from your computer during the day for a brief time. If the boss needs you, they can ping you on the out of band messaging you set up earlier. Working from home doesn’t mean you need to spend 8 or 10 hours in front of a computer screen without moving. You never did it in the office, you don’t need to do it now.
Oh, and something my boss reminds me of every so often. While not a mandatory thing, take a shower every once in a while. Your pajamas and your family will thank you for it!